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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  December 20, 2010 4:00am-5:00am EST

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>> thank you very much. really, t a pleasure to be down here with you all.
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i met carl a few months ago in california -- or seattle. >> seattle film festival. >> sorry. and we just had an amazing conversation sort of sharing our, the differences and similarities in our experiences in war. and so what we thought we would do is instead of just doing our separate things up here is sort of have that conversation again on stage with you guys. there are very, very profound similarities between his experience and mine and also some very significant differences. and then we'll open it up to questions. i mean, i'm going to sort of kick this off, i guess, just by describing my work a little pit. bit. i was with a platoon, about 30 men, at a remote outpost in afghanistan in the karingal valley. it's eastern afghanistan in the
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mountains, and it was the scene of a fifth of all the combat in all of afghanistan. 150 men, a battle company, were absorbing a fifth of all the combat for 70,000 nato troops. it was very, very intense. there was hardly a day without a fire fight. every guy i was with including myself and my partner, tim hetherington, were almost killed in very, very specific ways like a bullet hit a few inches from my head during one fire fight. every guy out there had that experience at least once. restreppo was a remote outpost, and this was what really intrigued me when i read carl's book, it was on a hilltop with no communication with the outside world, a very, very vulnerable place, and that is, essentially, what carl's book is about, a similar outpost in vietnam. we were on mars out there. there was no, no phone, no
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internet, no way to communicate with the outside world, there was no running water, nowhere to bathe. the guys did a month at a time up there. they just lived in their clothes until their clothes fell off, and they burned them, and when they got back to the headquarters once a month, put new fatigues on and wore those for the next month. there was no cooked food. it was bottles of water and mres and boxes of ammo and sandbags for a year. and it was very intense combat, three or four fire fights a day sometimes. and one of the extraordinary things that happened out there, i thought, was that the men adapted to it. and very, very quickly whatever the reason was that they might have joined the army, very quickly out there those reasons disappeared and combat became strictly a matter of keeping themselves and their brothers alive. there was a brotherhood out there that existed that can't
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exist in society. there's friendship in society, friendships based on how you feel about another person. out there it was a brotherhood and very little to do with their feelings. one guy said, you know, it's strange, there are guys in the platoon who straight up hate each other, but we would all die for each other. that's a brotherhood. and very quickly it was the brotherhood they were fighting for. i didn't know if that was unique to restreppo or to this war or not. i thought it probably wasn't, but then i read carl, carl's book, incredible book, mather horn, and i started to see some of the same things, almost the same guys, actually, in his book, so i'll hand it over to you, and maybe you can talk about that. >> yeah, i was struck as well by that similarity, and i have a feeling we could be talking about genghis khan, and it would not be too much different. a little bit about the
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background of matterhorn, i was a marine lieutenant, and we were with a company that was situated in the mountains in the jungle very high, about 5 or 6,000 feet right where the laotian border meets the demilitarized zone, and it's the same sort of a situation. it just sort of astounds me how, what -- you know, do we never seem to change things? the book is, essentially, about a fire support base which is named matterhorn which is built at extraordinary cost, and then it's abandoned and because of a mistake is occupied by the north vietnamese army without the bunkers being destroyed, and then it's reassaulted to be taken back, and then it's abandoned. and i remember just after reading sebastian's book reading in the newspaper how restreppo
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was bulldozed, literally, about two weeks or three weeks after i read his book. and i went, oh, my lord, this is astounding. and one of the things that is also that the books seem to have in common and sort of, you know, why you write books like this, i i wasn't interested in politics of the war. my politics of the war if anybody wants to ask me, i'm happy to talk about them, but this book is about kids growing up. and i even had trouble at first saying the word kids because we tend to always like to abstract it. we call them marines or troopers or our soldiers over there. we don't really refer to them as who they are, and be they're generally extraordinarily young, and there's a reason for why they're so young. they're actually our best weapons. i mean, you know, you can imagine a group of 35 or 40-year-olds sitting around like, we're going to take the hill. wait a second, lieutenant, let's talk about this. [laughter] maybe if we got the air force to come and bomb them for a couple
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of weeks -- so, i mean, 9-year-olds are -- 19-year-olds are extraordinary, and they just go for it. one of the reasons is their brain hasn't yet developed, that frontal cortex of about foresight and judgment. and that's good when we put them in situations like charging hills, but i think it doesn't work so well when we put them in situations that require police work. and in vietnam and afghanistan we're finding ourselves in the same position. so it's, it is remarkable how similar these two books are in terms of what it talk abouts about. but sebastian, one of the things that i was really interested in was you are a journalist, and you came at this from the viewpoint of writing journalism. and it's almost like we came at opposite ends.
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i came at it writing fiction, but it was very real in terms of the background. i'm just curious how a journalist deals with this kind of writing because this isn't sort of like, you know, what you read in "the new york times". i mean, it's real different sort of stuff. >> where yeah. i mean, i've never been a sort of hard news reporter. i mean, "the new york times," basically all newspapers deliver information to you. but you never have the feeling while you're reading the article about anything, rwanda, afghanistan, new york city. you never have the illusion that you're there. you're downloading information from the writer. about that topic. but there's no attempt -- the writer makes no attempts to make you imagine yourself there. but that's not what peeture magazine -- feature magazine writers, authors do. i mean, people aren't going to
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read your book if they can't step into that world and dwell there for a while. and that means all of a sudden these small details become important, what the, you know, what the weather is and what the trees look like and what, you know, the way someone smiles but you can tell they're not entirely smiling because they're very conflicted about something or whatever, all those little details of the human experience and the world we live in be. if you can create those details and, for me, you can only do that in order to call it nonfiction. you have to live up to the highest standards of journalism in terms of only reporting fact. but what you notice factually when you're out there as an author is very different from what a new york times reporter might notice. so i'm absorbing all of these things and putting it into an account that i hope my readers can kind of step into and enjoy.
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there's, you know, there's conversations that i recorded verbatim that had no, would never wind up in a new york times story because they had no strategic or political significance, they're just tragic or hilariously funny, or they give some insight into how young men react to the extreme environment of combat. like my movie restreppo, i wanted to give civilians who cannot go over there but who are paying for this war and many would argue benefiting from it in terms of security in this country, i wanted to give civilians a chance to experience what these young soldiers are doing. if we don't, if we can't understand what they went through emotionally, it'll be very, very hard to bring them back boo society. they had -- into society. they had a very emotional experience out there. they didn't have a political experience, they didn't have a
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strategic experience. all the levels that war gets argued on back here and must get argued on back here, they didn't have those experiences. they had an emotional one. they had the same experience that your, you know, high school kid would have if he was walking down the street with his best friend and a car jumped the curb and killed his best friend in front of his eyes. they had that experience. and so if you can, if you can understand it on those terms and understand what's so compelling about combat for young men, i mean, everyone i was with in that platoon after they came back to italy where they're based, they're all professional soldiers. they didn't come back home, they went back to their base. they had a month off and then they returned to duty. after they got out of afghanistan after a few weeks, they all missed it. they wanted to go back. they didn't know what to do with themselves. you have to understand what is it that young men miss about
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combat, what is it that's so significant and important and, frankly, gratifying at least at that age about combat that makes them feel ill at ease back in their homes? if we can't understand that, we can't do anything about it, so that was what i tried to do with my book. i imagine your guys you were with had some issues as well. >> oh, absolutely. i mean, like, one of the issues certainly in the vietnam war was meaning. and i talk about meaning in this novel a lot. just picking up on what sebastian said, and i know he was writing about it in the his book. it's like you get a 19-year-old who is everything he does is very, very important. if he doesn't show up when he says he's going to show up, somebody dies. then you send him back to the states and say, well, why don't you flip burgers at mcdonald's? and it's just not going to be too easy for him to come back to a sort of civilian life. it's a difficult transition.
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most of the guys in vietnam were drafted, and they weren't -- it wasn't the professional military. and even a lot of the marines certainly were there for two or three years, and i think that's a big difference between the two wars is that our war right now in afghanistan is being fought by a professional army. and the vietnam war was fought by primarily by a drafted army. and there's good and bad about that. i mean, in one sense i can always remember the first time i ever ate mexican food was i had a tamale from a guy named delgado, his mother sent him a tamale and getting drafted into the army. i wasn't drafted, i volunteered. marines are usually volunteers, but it's a great sort of integrator and leveler. i talk a lot about racism in this novel and what i notice in if sebastian's is that that issue of racism seems to be pretty well solved in the military, and i think people have made really good progress with it. i don't know, i'm just getting off on a riff here, but there's
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another thing that i just, that occurred to me about that come pat experience and why -- combat experience and why it's so difficult to try and understand it. if you ever think about what the great mystics write about with religious experiences, there's certain components. one of them is always being aware of your own death. they always talk about being present, right here right now. you don't think about the future, you don't think about the past. usually you get yourself in situations where you get to a point in your life where you put other people's lives in front of your own life, and generally they're part of this religious experience involves being a group of people larger than yourself, the church. and every one of those things is in combat. i don't quite know o what to make of it except it looks like the dark side of the same coin, and it's just things like that that when i was actually writing the novel started to occur to
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me, and that's one of the great things about fiction is that i wasn't, i wasn't particularly trying to convey actual facts about what was going on with the group of people, but i was actually using my own experience to inform a story. the reason i like the literary form is because i had this experience and i talked about it on the internet so if you've heard this story before, i'm sorry, you're going to hear it again. it was an important epiphany for me. i was quite a young man, and i was reading "delta wedding." you know, a woman friend of mine said, you've got to read this novel. yeah, right, whatever. finally i said, okay, i'll read it. and can it was about a woman in the 1920s on a plantation in the mississippi delta who was putting on her daughter's wedding. and i went, well, dear, whatever, and i started reading it. and she was very concerned
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because the shepherdess crooks hadn't shown up from memphis, and it was dirt road, and she wasn't sure they were going to get there on time. when i first started reading that novel, i was like, who cares? my god, woman. by the time i finished that novel, i had been in this woman's skin, i'd been in her body, i'd seen the world through her eyes, and i was going, where are the damn shepherdess' crooks? [laughter] ..
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the story, this idea of getting to someone else's skin, a little bit hesitant. you can tell embarrassment. she says i have to say when i was in college when the war was going on, i protested all the time. very much against this war. i didn't know you guys slept outside. [laughter] we build a small bridge here. quite ordinary people have a very difficult time crossing that bridge because it is a different world and these are two methods of trying to communicate what is generally and communicable unless you go
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there. >> you said something interesting to me last time i saw you. you were recollecting the guy in your platoon who said something to you like the experience of combat, being at the outpost for a year, i wouldn't pay a dollar for it but wouldn't sell it for a million dollars. >> i wouldn't trade it for million dollars but would pay a nickel to do again. these guys have these wonderful ways of white wood that you wish you could be like that all the time. that is a pretty apt description and i feel exactly that way. i went back to my old high school and in high school kids are wonderful because there is no filter. will assume there's a guy if i ask this? anyway, it will be questioned time soon. this one girl stands up and says
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would you do it again? no one had asked me at that point. i went while, i don't know. the answer to that that i gave her is who i am is the enormously a function of what i have done. being in the with vietnam war as a marine is a giant part of that and given that i like who i n i guess the saying is, i guess i would say i would do it again because i would end up the person i am. the difference is i would like to know ahead of time whether i get back alive or not. >> the principal character in my book, i was friends with all the guys. my trips out there, my trip number is 3. i had been so much combat and so
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many patrols and looked like those guys and was accepted by them. he and i developed a good friendship partly because he was good at verbalizing the stuff everyone else was thinking about. he was able to put into words all these moral dilemmas and questions and what we doing out here and is it good or wrong? all those a wishing questions, they were all asking themselves that. but they were not all able to ask about what a coherent way. i had long conversations with brendan. at one point he started talking -- i videotaped him doing this and put it on line. such a powerful video. he was talking about god and brandon is an atheist. he was talking about god and he had a rough childhood. he and his dad had a pretty troubled relationship and a lot
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of alcohol was involved and they got into a pretty good fight one night and his dad shot him twice and it precipitated a reconciliation between them. it took that to get them back from the brink and unfortunately his father passed away recently but they wound up being very close. so that story ended 12. he was a tough kid and what had happened to him was it gave him a philosophical bent. so he says i keep thinking about what we're doing out here. we are killing people and we are killing people who are trying to kill us. i don't even believe in god but i am worried what i am going to say to him when i meet him.
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is this really what god wants? if my understanding of god is correct does he really want his humans killing each other? he was thinking outside any political framework in a strategic -- thinking completely outside that not even of moral terms. is this ok? with everybody? he didn't even believe in god but it was a way to ask a question of himself and what really messes me up, i don't feel okay about this. i don't like the idea. combat happened at several hundred yards in ravines and no one was ever shore if they did hit anybody but you couldn't see the effect of your own gun fire usually. i don't know what i am going to say to god and i am troubled about it.
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i don't want to have killed anyone but what really messes me up is i do all the same things exactly the same way if i had to again. we come under fire, the and my brothers are getting shot at. i already lost my best friend, i will kill the people who are trying to kill us. i don't want mrs. steiner to get the phone call that her son is dead. steiner was on brandon's team and brandon was the team leader and steiner got shot in the head but the bullet glanced off his helmet and it terrified branded. i told all my guys i will get you home alive. you will go home to your families and girlfriends. he didn't care nearly as much whether he did or not. it was his men that he worried about. he got hit in the head and he realized there was a certain amount he could not control and that was when he got terrified.
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i never saw him show any fear at all and that is what terrified him that steiner almost got killed. i don't want steiner's mom to get that phone call. i will kill anyone who is doing that to her but that is what he couldn't figure out because he felt terrible about it and that created an existentialist in english in him that lasted a year or two. >> when you are talking about that, what hit me is you somehow have the idea that we are not part of that. but actually, those kids are actually just the far end of a chain of things that they could put into a situation because of people like us who are sitting in this room. to expect them that age to figure out all the moral and philosophical complications of it that is what we are supposed
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to be doing. that is what adults are supposed to be doing. did so and so -- he killed somebody in the war. he pulled the trigger. somebody else paid the taxes and somebody else made the ammo and someone else drove the car. it is 8 huge long chain that goes a long way back. when i hear him talking about a kid who is wondering what in the world -- his world is confined to that. he doesn't have any more control over what the bigger pictures are so it is important for people who read books like sebastian's and mine and other great literature that deals with this stuff is one of the differences between that and a shoot them up fiction. to understand that you are part of the same chain. we have to do what we have to do and do it the way we want. i will not get political.
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there are pros and cons overtime. interesting to hear you talk about that. i have another question. i volunteered to be a marine when i was 18. quite frankly there has been some talk -- i got a person's rating -- what do they call it? critical review calling pornography which people picked up from internet stuff. i wonder if you don't get a lot of that because you actually go out and your job is to go out and write stuff that is pretty horrific and have people read it. what do you say about that? >> it is really complicated territory intellectually, morally. lie job is to cover terrible events. not events like the tsunami in
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thailand that is not avoidable. people choose to go to war. sometimes there are good reasons but you're still choosing to go to war and i am covering that. i had a similar confusion to the soldiers. soldiers grew to like in some ways and need in some ways out there and the same thing happened to me as a journalist. what do you do with that if you find yourself drawn to something that is awful? if you are sensitive person it is very confusing situation. most of my war reporting has been in civil wars and the middle east. i was writing about the effect on the civilian population and every single one of those worse that i covered was stopped by a military intervention. that really gets confusing. you are using work to stop war.
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like you're using a disease to inoculate someone so they don't get smallpox. it is counterintuitive. bosnia, kosovo, macedonia and a minor way. in some ways afghanistan. the bloodshed in afghanistan in the 90s after the soviets pulled out, the chaos in that country in the 1990s, even rights figures, something like 400,000 civilians were killed. this society imploded. that era ended when the u.s. went in in 2001 followed by nato. in the decades since nato has been there the u.s. has been afghanistan the highest estimates of civilian casualties are 30,000. then you find yourself sort of arguing with violence to prevent violence. in the world that does happen.
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on an intuitive level that doesn't feel good to talk that way. that is my job as a reporter. the politics, morality of all this got really complicated when instead of reporting on african civil war like sierra leone which was stopped instantly by the british paratroopers, stopped and that civil war, but now we are talking american soldiers who are in the country for a decade and i could not reconcile all those different questions and issues in my mind so what i decided to do was simply write about the experience of the soldiers and that experience in some ways became my experience and i experienced fear and all those things and that is what i end up writing about. in answer to your question -- i
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was profoundly changed by this. i came back with a little posttraumatic stress disorder but i was tremendously open up and a lot of the guys in the platoon reported the same faint. they became emotional at the darndest things and i did too and they were puzzled. these are 20-year-old guys. they don't like to cry. they don't watch a movie and start tearing up. they are not used to that. is uncomfortable. what many of them said, fall trauma and the unpleasantness and they wish, they were moved by things just walking down the street. seeing a woman with her kid. things like that. i was having the same experience in my 40s. better late than never. i was changed in many ways but most of those ways were good.
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for me. the guy is being younger, we don't understand it. we think we are turning into girls. i had it more nuanced. did you have anything like that? >> i understand exactly what you are saying. i remember being surrounded and thinking this is it because we had been fighting. we were down to seven bullets each and it was looking very dicey because we had been hit three times and the next time they were going to have us it was all over and the clouds parted and we got a chopper to resupply as with ammunition. and i remember that moment in my life really being where this was it. i had maybe an hour or two and i was looking at a blade of grass
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and i started to cry because it was so beautiful. and i would not have appreciated a blade of grass if i hadn't realize this would be the last green thing i see before i am out of here and i think that is what those kids are responding to. they realize it really is beautiful to be alive. >> we have about 15 minutes. >> i talked on and on and i hope it was interesting for you guys. [applause] >> we would love to take questions if people want to go to the mike. the mike is that the sender of the aisle. >> i wonder about the change at the point that changed each of
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you from the experience of going from civilian which you did into a combat situation and then you are out of it. in other words, now. how you feel about going into such a situation again. and during the military? >>-i can answer that. >> you had a motivation to go to afghanistan to report, to enter into the military as a professional. each of you have gone through an experience and come out of it. would you re-enter that at that age? or re-enter the situation of
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going into the military or going into a combat situation again and if not, what from your experience would motivate you in that direction. >> i am not a pacifist. there are bad people in the world to have to be dissuaded from hurting people, if situation came up that looked to me like this was basically the way i see it the adults screw it up so bad that the only answer is war. it looked like it was a work being done for a just cause. sebastian davis two or three examples. i am terribly proud to have been a marine and being young and i probably would have thought i
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was going to be moral and alive and that is one of the great buffers of that. >> i am a journalist and war reporter and i know i will be doing it again. >> i have read most of your books so faq. my concern is you talk about two different worse. we call it post-traumatic stress. the impact in society is too great. in massachusetts where i am from, returning soldiers the statistics are horrible.
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that is one issue. our foreign policy is pretty much the same from vietnam to afghanistan and in between. i don't know how much we have learned or reflected. i know is not your job to come up with concrete suggestions but to express and give people a chance to be in your shoes. maybe you could come up with a suggestion particularly with post-traumatic stress because i think that is awful. it is what is and it comes, these are young people. a gathering third or more have this experience. >> it is a very real cost of sending kids to war. the society has to recognize they have to take care of these people when they come back and
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we have not done a good job of it. a book just came out called lethal warriors about the fort carson murders and was the same thing. you have kids from rough backgrounds. their brains are all ears. it is not like this is something you can -- physical and biological changes. you have heard that if you're going to get killed in a war you will get killed in the first few weeks than any other time because your brain has adapted the way the brain adapts. it doesn't lead a sound or smelter the cortex the personal maybe that is my friend coming up the road. if you do that in combat you are dead. it goes directly so the minute you hear any sensory input you shoot it. there is no more thought.
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you are so much faster you start to survive. it never gets changed back. so kids come back altered of that way so they have too much to drink and someone hits them with her elbow, there is no fog going on any more. i lost my first marriage because of a large extent i got -- i didn't know what posttraumatic stress was. i was doing weird stuff. some guy honked his horn at me at an intersection and i came to standing on the road of his costs trying to smash his windshield and one of my middle -- my middle daughter a wonder what daddy is doing. daddy was wondering what daddy was doing. luckily neither of us were on so it didn't get any worse but it really happens and we have to as a society say we will send them to war because if we ever get
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the war over with, we are not done with these people. these people have to get a lot of help, learning how to react. now when the s o b hawks his horn, 98765 -- i have been taught to try to get conscious about it. i have been fortunate. i got into the va program so i agree wholeheartedly there has to be more space to take -- pay the price. come on home tommy atkins, we are done with you. tommy is going to get in trouble. >> the guys i was with didn't come home. i haven't seen that unfold. they are professional soldiers. they went into their next deployment and came out. they reset back to afghanistan around the corner, came back ten days ago. i have seen that process.
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even at the base in italy, number of divorces and a lot of problems and drinking and barroom fights, much of that result of the changes that happened to them in combat. to be fair, they were young guys who got married very young. i am not sure all those marriages -- you have to understand brendan went into the military with the enormous problems and a terrible drinking problem. he could get into a fight with a mailbox walking down the street. one of those guys. he comes home and keep doing that it is not necessarily combat pet cause that. it was his behavior. he said to me the army saved my life. i could have died out there but i was definitely headed that way back home on the streets of new
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jersey. it is very complicated. next question, a quick note about u.s. foreign policy which obviously is very easy to find flaws in but there is for me a really important distinction between vietnam and the war we are in in afghanistan. my understanding, i wasn't born yet but my understanding was we went to vietnam -- you can correct me if you want. there was a conceptual threat in global communism. and we decided to confront it in vietnam. i am not in a position to evaluate the seriousness of that threat. that is different from thousands of civilians being killed in the world trade center. we went to afghanistan for very specific, tragic, immediate physical reasons like we lost
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the world trade center, part of the pentagon and a couple hundred people in a field in pennsylvania. the difference for all the flaws in our policy, i have been left wing my whole life. i am very good at picking out flaws in u.s. foreign policies. one of my favorite pastimes. i feel like that point is an important one to make. like the war in iraq, vietnam might have been a war of choice. i don't think afghanistan was. i think it was something we had to do. the tragedy is we did it so badly. the bush administration handled at so poorly. we may have lost the war in afghanistan by going to iraq. that is my fear that that will end up being what history tells us. >> should we still be there now ten years later? >> that is a long and
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complicated answer. >> thank you for serving our country. i was in the selective service but never got called up. there are similarities and differencess between two worse but i am concerned we are seeing an issue that happened in vietnam and cambodia. and we have temporary pakistan and we have been there 9 years. this war is winnable. the right way to go. is there a better way? i am also concerned about the war in afghanistan that only a small portion of the population in the u.s. is sacrificing contrary to vietnam where families got drafted and people were more involved.
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i see a lot of people, go to south beach and no one talks about afghanistan. the young people there are having fun. >> wasn't even talked about in the election. >> it is kind of concerning that 90% of the population, work is somebody else's problem. >> i have a visceral reaction to that. i was a reading in north carolina just outside fort bragg. a young woman came up with her husband and said another baby in her arms, wanting to sign a book and starts crying and i go with is the matter? she says my husband is shipping out the day after tomorrow for afghanistan. i said is this your second deployment? it is my seventh. what is the chance of that family surviving that? we ought to be ashamed of ourselves to lay a burden like that on a small population.
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i went to yale when there was a big plaque at yale made of bronze that had hundreds of names of dead yalees who fought in world war ii and korea. we hired out. the public is in trouble to do it that way. if we go to war every class has to go to war. we are not doing it that way. you heard sebastian talk about the kids that end up in the military. that is why we are doing. i am glad they are there but i think we ought to have other people fleeing the war. i'd off -- there was that question. ..
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>> we're now in that sticky position. we are there, now what? i mean, that's where we got in vietnam. i agree with sebastian, they didn't make that war because of, you know, imperialistic designs. they were seriously worried about world communism. stalin and hitler, mussolini were trying to take over the world saw years before -- 15 years before kennedy started putting troops in there. i think they made a mistake, and the result is abandoning our allies. so now what? we're in that situation, and i don't have an easy answer for it. i wish they'd all come home tomorrow, but if we did that, it would be chaos, and vacuums are filled by really rapacious people, and i don't think we want that either. it's a pickle. we made the pickle, you know? >> this question might be a
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little off topic but i've been wanting to ask sebastian younger this question for years, how would afghanistan be different if maas pseudohad not been assassinatedsome. >> yeah. he was the leader of the alliance, former minister of defense, i think he was in the government. they were dislodged by the taliban, and ma pseudod continued fighting from northeastern afghanistan. i spent a couple of months with he and his men as they fought the taliban. he, i mean, he was kind of darling of the media at least in part because he, i mean, at least i found him to be a very principled, a very principled man. i mean, in a country where, you know, in the '90s in the sort of nihilism and violence that came out of the soviet withdrawal and that war, it was hard to find people of principle in positions of leadership.
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it really was. and massoud really seemed to be trying to create a just society, and the taliban were not it, and he was at war with the taliban, and they finally killed him. they killed him two days before 9/11. he was outnumbered three to one by the taliban, taliban backed by pakistan, al-qaeda was in there, and massoud fought them off. and he was even organizing, he convened a conference of afghan leaders from all over the world in a field in northern afghanistan while i was there. fifty plastic chairs in a circle, and he said we need to form a government for this country for when the taliban falls because they will fall. this was in the fall of 2000, and he was already convening a government in embryonic form to take care of afghanistan when the taliban eventually fell. he never lived to see it, tragically.
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but to answer your question, one of the great things about massoud was that he really believed in afghan dignity and independence from the meddling of foreign countries. and every neighboring country has meddled with afghanistan, that's why it's such a troubled country. soviet union, iran, pakistan, united states, and he was, you know, he was one of the reasons pakistan would not support him is that he refused to allow pakistani intelligence undue influence in afghan affairs, so they just sidelined him. i think had he been in the government, had he survived and led the northern alliance into kabul and found a place in government, someone with those kinds of principles would have been exactly what afghanistan needed. i mean, the reason this war is still going on is partly because of our bad decisions, but partly because pakistan has been turning up the heat, sort of
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strategically and funneling arms and ammunition and, you know, ideology into afghanistan since the beginning. and massoud would have taken an extremely hard line against that. and then you read the newspaper and, you know, karzai is supposedly conducting secret negotiations with the taliban and with pakistan. >> and iran. >> and iran. exactly. that is the difference between massoud and karzai and, of course, it's visionaries like that who get killed. i mean, it's the martin luther kings of the world who get assassinated. had he survived, i think he would have been -- it still would have been a very complicated, tragic situation, but i think it would have helped it immensely. >> that seems to be an unwritten story. are you going to write that someday perhaps? >> i proposal won't, but i appreciate -- probably won't, but i appreciate the hint. >> i believe bin laden had him assassinated by people posing as
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journalists. >> that's right. they packed a t camera with -- tv camera with explosives and interviewed him and pulled the trigger, pushed the button. >> thank you. >> yeah. >> carl, i want to really thank you for your book. i'm a vietnam veteran, and my experience was intense, but i'm grateful i didn't serve the way you did. [laughter] and it helped me get a better handle on it. i especially appreciate what you guys have been saying about the need for us, civilians, to wake up to the price that we're paying for this. i just read, maybe you guys have heard, that there are now 18 veterans a day committing suicide, and i think i also read that the latest agent orange figures are 42.6 billion on top
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of everything else. i think if through your work and other work like that if people got the message about what this really costs us never mind in just dollars, but in human life, it would, it would maybe make a difference. because you, your work really helped. i just wanted to thank you. >> thank you. [applause] >> i sort of, i think you made an interesting comment before when you questioned about what happens, why we bring people back here and we don't do anything about taking care of them and watching them for psd, posttraumatic stress syndrome and all these other things. but at the same time we don't seem to worry about oil spills until after they've happened or miners until after they've blown up at the bottom of the mine or
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pollution in the water until after it's done. i would like to posit for you to think about in terms of our foreign policy and our track record of interventions, if we don't seem to care about people until after we get pressed up against the wall and we have evidence that something happened to them, when we do it over and over and over again in our society, don't you think i our choices of going in to intervene suffer from the same syndrome of not being able to understand what's really going on? [applause] >> yeah, i, i've always loved this quote which is that, you know, you never should assume a conspiracy when just plain stupidity will suffice. [laughter] and humans are flawed. and humans occupy all the positions of power right up to the top. and every one of them is flawed, and we make mistakes all the time. and i think that this thing
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about being able to step outside of our own individual needs and see the needs of the greater good is, in fact, the whole, the whole course of civilization which has been very rocky and very difficult, and i'm kind of an optimist. i mean, i think we've made headway on some fronts. there's still a lot more to go, so, i mean, i agree with you, but i wish i had a good answer. >> i, i had an argument, discussion with a friend of mine recently, you know, basically is the united states a good country or not morally, good country or not, and he was sort of running through his list of, you know, bad things -- in his mind, bad things the united states has done. and, you know, i said to him, i said, look, the united states, i mean, it's no different from you. like, you have acted in your life with dignity and honor and
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generosity, and you've always probably been a son of a bitch and broken some hearts and lied to some people and maybe stolen some stuff when you were a kid, etc., etc. i said, the united states is a collection of people like you and like me, and there's no reason to expect it's going to be less flawed an all the individuals in it. and just because you broke her heart and, you know, cheated on your taxes and did this and that doesn't mean you're an evil person. it means you're a human being with all the flaws that come with that. and can the question is are you intending -- and the question is are you intending to do evil or not? if you're intending to do evil, i'm going to start to think you might be. that's the difference between being flawed. and you have to look at this country in terms of what our intentions are. you know? personally, i don't think we went to afghanistan out of some kind of imperialism. i mean, i might be wrong, i just
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don't think that was our motivation. we -- there are times i think our motivation wasn't good. i think our history in central america backing right-wing dictators was absolutely hideous. but that's part of, you know, that's part of a fabric that includes martin luther king and the first child labor laws and the world and women's suffrage and equal rights and on and on and on. you've got to put it in the fabric of americans -- you have to put the bad stuff in the great fabric of american society. i've worked all over the world, and everywhere i go people are desperate to come to this country because they feel that they will be treated in an essentially fair manner. and not arbitrarily arrested and tortured in a police station. and you do have -- while you criticize and we must criticize government to make it better, please, keep it in the context, in our historical context. it's really important. [applause]


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